Wrongful delay: Virginia continues to victimize Robert Davis

Robert Davis, who served 13 years in prison for a wrongful conviction, stands to receive almost $600,000 from the state. Photo by Ryan Jones Robert Davis, who served 13 years in prison for a wrongful conviction, stands to receive almost $600,000 from the state. Photo by Ryan Jones

It wasn’t enough that a wrongful conviction took nearly 13 years of Robert Davis’ life. Now, two years after he was released from prison and more than a year after then-Governor Terry McAuliffe granted him a full pardon, the General Assembly is stalled in a budget war that threatens to hose Davis’ state-mandated compensation.

Delegate David Toscano carried the bill that would give Davis nearly $600,000, and it passed the House 100-0. But when it went to the Senate, it became entangled in the Senate’s budget that does not expand Medicaid and the House’s, which does. That difference caused the Senate to slice expenditures, even for the wrongfully incarcerated.

Davis was 18 years old when he was named as a participant in a February 2003 murder of Nola Charles and her 3-year-old son. After being subjected to a police interrogation that resulted in what’s been called a “textbook” false confession, Davis entered an Alford plea and was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

It was only after two siblings convicted in the slayings, Rocky and Jessica Fugett, admitted that Davis had nothing to do with the deaths, that he was released from prison December 21, 2015.

“It’s frustrating,” says Davis. “I made $12,000 last year,” working four and five part-time jobs.

The General Assembly has a formula to compensate the wrongfully incarcerated that’s based on 90 percent of the state’s per capita income.

“I don’t think it’s fair,” says Davis’ attorney Steve Rosenfield. “It does not take into account the 12 years of a young man’s life. It doesn’t take into account going to the movies or getting a pizza—all the things that were denied Robert.”

If the General Assembly agrees to the compensation, Davis would get an initial lump sum of $116,463 as soon as he signs a release agreeing to not make further claims against the state. The balance of nearly $466,000 goes to purchase an annuity for Davis, who is also entitled to receive $10,000 for tuition at a Virginia community college.

Davis says he’d use the lump sum to pay off debts and buy a reliable vehicle. “I’m so afraid my car will die on me,” he says.

He also wants to take classes to get electrical or HVAC certification. “I want to get educated,” he says. “I know I can’t live off this money forever.”

The General Assembly session adjourned March 10 without voting on a final budget bill, and the fate of Davis’ compensation is uncertain. If the General Assembly does not have a budget to fund government operations on July 1, Governor Ralph Northam will likely propose a new budget and require a vote.